A fully assembled and operational International Space Station received ESA astronaut André Kuipers in December 2012 for the fourth European long-duration mission to the orbital outpost.
André launched on 21 December from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, in Kazakhstan, on a Soyuz spacecraft as flight engineer for Expeditions 30 and 31, together with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and NASA astronaut Don Pettit. They remained in space for nearly six months as part of the resident, international six-astronaut crew.
PromISSe was the first long-duration mission for a European following the end of the Shuttle programme in July 2012. With the ISS lifetime extended to 2020, André’s presence on the Space Station inaugurated a new decade of optimal utilisation to bring the benefits of space science, technology and education back to Earth.
This was André’s second visit to the ISS after his 11-day Delta mission sponsored by the Dutch government in April 2004. Back then he was also launched on a Soyuz rocket. “It feels like going back home, but the house will have doubled its size since my last visit,” says André. During Delta, the Space Station had only four main modules (Zarya, Unity, Destiny and Zvezda) and two permanent crewmembers.
André is the first Dutchman to make two spaceflights. “I remember how thin the Earth atmosphere looks like from space and how black the Universe is. It made me realise that billions of people live in a very fragile planet. We really should take care of it,” recalls André.
The transition from ISS assembly to full operations gives a boost to scientific research. With less time to be spent on assembly tasks, the crew hours available for science during PromISSe will be significantly increased. “We have a pretty busy schedule. We will be conducting scientific experiments around 40 hours per week,” said the astronaut before launch.
He is himself a medical doctor who has been actively involved in microgravity research for more than ten years. “The data I will collect from my own body can bring valuable information about the effects of weightlessness on the human body. This research may help in preparation for a future mission to Mars,” he posted on his blog.
During the 148-day mission he took part in around 30 ESA experiments covering a range of disciplines: human research, fluid physics, materials science, radiation and solar research, biology and technology demonstrations. Most of them were carried out in Europe’s Columbus laboratory, a world-class research platform in space. André celebrated the fourth anniversary of this European laboratory module while in orbit.
Countermeasures for bone loss, the study of headaches in space and mapping the radiation environment inside the Station are among the experiments related to human exploration. André not only performed experiments for ESA, but also more than 20 for the US and Japanese space agencies requiring the use of almost 30 different research facilities in the various ISS laboratories.
As flight engineer on the Station, André had several assignments, ranging from system aspects to payload operations. He was on hand for processing of visiting vehicles. He was the prime crewmember for rendezvous and docking operations of ESA’s third Automated Transfer Vehicle Edoardo Amaldi (ATV-3).
The largest servicing vehicle for the Station today delivers essential cargo, performs regular ISS orbit reboosts and attitude control manoeuvres. It can perform debris-avoidance manoeuvres for the whole complex if needed.
André was highly involved in berthing the new visiting vehicles Dragon (SpaceX) as part of NASA’s commercial resupply programme.
André Kuipers had his eyes on our planet. He shared some of the unique views of Earth from the Station’s Cupola and invited children to become involved in a wide range of educational activities. Space is an exciting platform for primary and secondary pupils to learn, together with the astronaut, about life, biodiversity and climate change on Earth.
Science activities were transmitted from space to classrooms across Europe with in-orbit demonstrations of experiments on convection and wet foam formation. André is also an advocate for health and human well-being. He encourages new generations of space explorers to stay fit by following the international education initiative Mission X: Train Like an Astronaut.